Q&A with Assistant Professor Christopher Banek, PhD
Where are you from?
Why did you join the UA Department of Physiology?
I joined the UA Physiology Department because of the multiple avenues for collaborative research between my colleagues within and outside the department, expanding our research impact into multiple fields and areas. The exchange of ideas and peer mentoring has been outstanding, and very helpful in this early stage in my career.
What got you interested in the field of physiology?
I initially was a chemistry/biochemistry buff; however, I was attracted to the whole-system effects of minute changes in cell signaling. I eventually became obsessed with this macroscopic approach, and pursued a PhD in Human Physiology. In time, I found physiology is often at the crossroads of multiple areas of research, an amalgamate of multiple areas and approaches, which allows for incredibly exciting, impactful, and (most importantly) translational work.
What is your area of research and why did you choose that area?
My area of expertise and research centers on high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension) – whether it occurs from a high sodium diet, a genetic predisposition, during a complicated pregnancy, secondary to primary kidney disease, etc. This area offers endless possibilities to study the nexus of cardio-renal-neural physiology.
What are the most meaningful aspects of your work?
Hypertension is a disease that affects nearly half of American adults, where most of us unfortunately have a family member or friend that are afflicted. Since hypertension is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, it is imperative to reveal new and effective modalities for treatment and prevention. Our lab is dedicated to developing these new approaches, through both pharmacological and non-pharmacological modalities.
What classes do you teach?
MED 830 Application of Basic Science to Clinical Medicine ()
PS 700 Research Methods
PSIO 492 Directed Research
PSIO 498H Honors Thesis
PSIO 399H Honors Independent Study
What do you like to do in your free time?
My time outside of the lab is largely spent on two wheels, whether it is by mountain biking on the numerous trails in town or on my motorcycle riding up Mount Lemmon. I also enjoy trail running with my dog, exploring all the mountain and desert trails Arizona has to offer. When I’m not outside, I enjoy woodworking and jamming on the guitar to relax at home.
Summarize your research recently funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Our current funding from NHLBI is aimed at elucidating the role of renal afferent nerves (signal from kidney to brain) in mediating salt-sensitive hypertension. Renal afferent nerve activity (ARNA) is elevated in our preclinical model, and targeted afferent nerve denervation abates the hypertension. Importantly, our research focuses on revealing the source of the elevated ARNA, we hypothesize it is local inflammatory cytokines in the kidney tissue that directly activate the nerves, and in turn, signal back to the brain to increase blood pressure systemically. By directly recording ARNA and blood pressure simultaneously, we are testing both neural and cardiovascular effects of specific cytokines when introduced to the kidney. Collectively, these studies are poised to elucidate the important role and mechanisms mediating renal afferent nerve control of blood pressure in hypertension. We aim to translate these findings to clinical studies, as well as application to other diseases such as polycystic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, and others.